Redemptorists logo
Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon
Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
Redemptorists logo


Features
Friday

Still our perpetual help

From the summer edition of Plentiful Redemption, the Redemptorists’ quarterly newsletter. Click here to read the newsletter online (PDF).

By Stephanie K. Tracy

She’s peered down from mantelpieces, peeked over the edge of dressers, and popped up around hallway corners for generations. That mysterious lady shrouded in blue, bathed in gold, with those eyes that feel like they can see right through you.
 
The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is one of the most recognizable images of Mary in the world, and the Redemptorists have been making her known under this title since 1866 when Pope Pius IX entrusted her to their care. The weekly perpetual novena services, still offered in most Redemptorist parishes today, have introduced generations to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
 
Click here for a slideshow of photos
of Perpetual Help Novenas in Boston and Brooklyn, NY.
 
Catherine Conry, a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, NY, has lived near the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help for 59 years, shortly after she married. Since moving into the neighborhood, she’s faithfully attended the weekly Perpetual Help novena. Her mother first handed on her devotion to Mary, and Catherine’s devotion only continued to grow once she started her own family.
 
“I grew up with it. I had seven children and the children would come with me; that was the only way I could get there! But it really taught them a great deal, and my faith keeps me coming,” Catherine said. “I have faith that she’s always come through and she always will.”
 
When Catherine first began attending the novena in Brooklyn, there were four or more services every Wednesday. Thousands flocked to the cavernous church to recite the prayers, sing the familiar hymns to Our Lady, and listen to a Redemptorist preach a powerful reflection on Mary.
 
As neighborhoods and churches have changed, the crowds may have dwindled, but the Redemptorists continue to reach thousands of people thanks to television, the Internet, and more recently through mobile phones.
 
Boston’s Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, better known as Mission Church, was also a hub of Perpetual Help devotion from the 1940s well into the 1980s. Thousands of people came on foot and on the trolley to pray and listen to some legendary Redemptorist preachers — Fathers Joe Manton and Joe Adamec, among others. Since 1984, the Mission Church novena has been broadcast on Boston’s CatholicTV. Since 2008, the novena homilies have been offered online via YouTube videos and since 2009 they’ve also appeared on the Redemptorists’ website, redemptorists.net.
 
The Wednesday novena at Mission Church has also seen a resurgence. Since the devotion was renewed in 2009, attendance at the main afternoon service has jumped 200 percent — from 75 people to more than 200. The evening service draws about 60 people now compared to 14.
 
“We’re discovering that people really want to experience the sacred,” said Father Philip Dabney, the Redemptorist who has overseen the Mission Church novena since 2009. “Our people are really hungering for God. Many knew the novena growing up. A good number are poor. We have a lot of Haitians and Africans — Perpetual Help is really big in their culture. They’re really in need and they come because they’ve experienced that need and Our Lady as the one who has helped them.”
 
In an effort to reach the hungering members of the younger generation, the Redemptorists released a novena app for the iPhone/iPad in February 2011. Available in English and Spanish, the first-of-its-kind app includes nine daily prayers adapted for a modern audience. In the first year, the app has been downloaded almost 900 times worldwide.
 
Joseph Schellings admits to never being “a big novena guy.” He began attending the novena at Mission Church when he started his second career teaching architecture.
The prayers, and especially the preaching, have kept him coming for the last 10 years. The icon’s story — of a Mother comforting her frightened Child — helped him relate to this unique image of Mary. Joseph said he compares it to the Gospel story of the wedding at Cana when Mary asked Jesus to provide more wine for the wedding feast.
 
“Having watched men relate to their mothers, that story has always seemed very real to me,” he said. “It taught me if you really want something from Jesus you’d better tell Mary, ‘Hey, would you get that for me?’”
 
Fran Ostrander was introduced to the image of Perpetual Help by her parents. She found the image’s Byzantine style hard to relate to, and never really liked it. That is until she learned the story surrounding her father’s sudden death.
 
“My dad worked in Manhattan and he’d go to (the Redemptorists’) Most Holy Redeemer Church on Third Street a lot. He was deaf and mute, and one evening he was robbed on the train home, and he died. All his possessions had been taken expect a little picture of Perpetual Help in his shirt pocket,” Fran said. “After I heard that story, knowing that he’d kept her with him like that, I had to start liking Our Lady of Perpetual Help!”
 
Like many people, Catherine brings many special intentions with her to the novena in Brooklyn. She prayed for her daughter-in-law when she was diagnosed with cancer. The disease was in remission for a few months, but since the cancer returned, she’s back on the prayer list.
 
“We don’t give up, and (my daughter-in-law) doesn’t either,” Catherine said.
 
Others, like Betty Galvin who’s attended the novena at Mission Church since she was in high school, keep coming because Perpetual Help is part of the fabric of their prayer lives.
 
“It probably keeps me on an even keel with dealing with some of the problems you have in your life,” she said.

Stephanie K. Tracy is the communications manager for the Redemptorists of the Baltimore Province.